So when I had a chance to go see the musical play Crowns at the Indiana Repertory Theatre yesterday, I was all over it! Crowns tells the stories of six African-American women through the many Sunday hats they wear. The characters include a Brooklyn teenager (Shannon Antalan) sent to live with her grandmother after the teen's brother was murdered, the grandmother (Chandra Currelley) and four other church-goin' women (Terry Burrell, Crystal Fox, Valerie Payton and Roz White).
The stage was set with dozens of hats hanging on coat racks and I found myself anxious to see certain hats on the heads of the actors, especially a black and red feathery number that turned out to be more appealing on the rack than on someone's head.
The opening scene reminded me of the opening of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, with colorful and swirling robes. (Though when I look at the pic below, it doesn't seem very Joseph, but trust me, that's what came to mind.)
The script offered some historical perspective on the tradition of wearing hats to Sunday worship. Hats were used to adorn oneself for worship. One of the characters said, "I'm going to meet the King; I'd better look good." In addition, hats were a status symbol. When a woman got some money, she spent it on hats and the place to show that hat was church.
From the very beginning of the show, the music -- Gospel and spirituals -- was engaging. It started out controlled and a little tame, leaving me hungry for some Praise Jesus! Hallelujah! moments. All in good time, Amy, all in good time.
I'm sure that someone who grew up on a steady diet of Gospel music could name more of the songs, but one that I recognized and thoroughly enjoyed was "His Eye is on the Sparrow." There were plenty of other uplifting and joyful songs that lent themselves to clapping and participation by the audience. I wish I had some mp3 files of the music to share with you. Or a soundtrack to listen to in my car.
The six female voices were joined by a lone male voice, that of Dennis Spears. Now, I'll admit to having a little bit of a thing for bald men (which is good news for Mike in his later years). Add to that the silky, sexy tone of Spears' voice and I was hooked. Too bad they didn't have a meet and greet after the show so I could rub that round brown "crown."
Besides wondering what it would feel like to touch Dennis Spears' head, Crowns made me wonder several other things:
- Do African-American women still where hats to church? My own church is pretty diverse, but in my experience you don't see a lot of hats in Catholic churches.
- What part of my heritage do I have to pass down? It was clear that Sunday hats are part of a cultural heritage in the African-American community. What is the heritage that I will pass down to my children and grandchildren? Since I'm sort of a human mutt when it comes to nationalities, it is probably my Catholic heritage that I will transfer most strongly.
- Is there something in my life that I use as these characters use hats? Two lines of the script struck me: "Hats are like people -- sometimes they reveal, sometimes they conceal" and "Sometimes under those hats is a lot of joy and a lot of sorrow." What in my life do I use to display or hide my joy and sorrow?
Crowns is adapted from a coffee table-type book of the same name by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. It runs on the Mainstage at the Indiana Repertory Theatre through May 2. You can buy tickets in advance or stop by the IRT box office one hour for showtime when any remaining tickets are available for 50% off!
Photos by R. Brent Smith, courtesy of IRT